Sunday, 27 January 2013

Sunday Matinee: The Way to the Stars

Powell and Pressburger had several films which dealt obliquely with the relationship between the British and the Americans in wartime - A Matter of Life and Death and A Canterbury Tale for starters - but the one that I think really nailed it came from a different stable; Anthony Asquith's 1945 picture The Way to the Stars.

From a purely British war film point of view it had everything that made the genre a success, John Mills, Michael Redgrave and Stanley Holloway heading the British contingent, Douglass Montgomery and Bonar Colleano for the US (there's probably a post to written in the future just on Colleano - he's largely forgotten now, but I promise you you'd recognise him if you saw him).

But it had a little bit more than that - something which elevates it above, say, Reach for the Sky, or even Angels One Five.  The Way to the Stars has soul. In part, that's probably down to the Terence Rattigan screenplay, which is spare and econonomical, but at the same time hugely affecting.

Charting the evolution of a single air base in eastern England, from use by the RAF through to takeover by the USAAF, it is a powerful study of character - from the initial gung-ho unwillingness of the Americans to listen to hard won advice from the RAF liaison officer (Mills), through to the developing relationships with the women of the village, this film is as affecting a piece of cinema as you'll see.  I'm really not trying to traduce Montgomery when I describe him as a poor man's Jimmy Stewart, but that's the sort of bracket he's operating in, and he's really the star of the film - his developing relationship with Rosamund John's war-widowed landlady is particularly senstively handled, and there is some very affecting use of children's parties to highlight growing and deepening bonds.  Indeed, I defy you to hold back the pricking at your eyes at the end where Colleano has to step in as entertainer when Johnny (Montgomery) has had to "go away." Its all so beautifully done.  And, through it all, like a metronome, is the steady presence of John Pudney's immortal poem "For Johnny."

It's Sunday afternoon, the Rusty Bicycle and Oxfork are full - you won't get a table if you're not already there.  Just sit inside and watch this - it's a little masterpiece.

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